A new trend has emerged that has gained traction in some states as a healthy and cost effective alternative to traditional burial. This new trend is called human composting and it’s likely to gain momentum in the upcoming year. I was asked by Ben Zeisloft of The Daily Wire to provide comments on this practice which he cited in his article yesterday.
How should Christians think about this new green burial practice?
The Imago Dei and Christian Burial
Just this past week, Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) signed a law legalizing human composting as a means of “natural organic reduction” alongside cremation and entombment as an acceptable burial method in the state of New York. Should Christians just readily accept this new trend?
In Genesis, immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit, sin entered the world. Not only did sin enter the world, but this sin resulted in death, decay, and division between man and his Creator (Romans 5:12). When God came to confront Adam and Eve and the ancient Serpent—in Genesis 3:17-19 he spoke directly to Adam and is made this statement in verse 19:
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
If God said that all of humanity was formed from the dirt and would return to the dirt as a result of sin—what’s the big deal with human composting? The controversy isn’t the breaking down of the human body that’s controversial. It’s what happens after the process of human composting is completed and the human body is transformed into a pile of dirt that really matters.
Pantheists have argued that everything can be reduced to matter, God is everything and everything is God, and that every existing entity is only one Being. Under this view, there is no difference between wood chips, alfalfa, and a human body. But, this is in complete contradiction to the view historically held by Christians.
From the earliest of times, the human body has been considered sacred. The rationale is based on what is known as the imago Dei—which affirms the fact that God created every person equally in his own image (Gen. 1:26-28). As divine image-bearers, the whole of humanity has inestimable value and dignity before God and deserves honor, respect and protection.
Therefore, the sanctity of human life is not determined by sex, ethnicity, age, religion, condition, or socioeconomic status. This is the foundation from which the Christian community advocates for the protection of the preborn and opposes abortion or any form of mutilation of the human body including euthanasia and sex change surgery.
Traditionally, pagan traditions have practiced cremation, and in some cases the burning of the body as a form of sacrifice to their idol (Lev. 18:21, 20:2–4; Deut. 18:10). However, Christians have buried their loved ones with the final resurrection of the dead in view. This practice envisions the day when Christ returns (John 11), the world is renewed, and death is forever banished for all eternity (Rev. 21).
Save the Whales, Kill the Babies, and Trash the Human Body
According to statistics and studies, the green economy generates some $1.3 trillion in annual sales revenue in the United States. Interestingly enough, while there’s a big push to save the planet through alternative sources of energy and the reduction of pollution—there’s a passionate fight to keep abortion legal and ongoing discussions about the options of assisted suicide (currently legal in 10 jurisdictions in 10 different states in the US). Our confused culture readily communicates that whales are essential to our ecosystem, but humans are disposable.
On September 18, 2022, the office of Governor Newsom announced that he had signed Bill 351 (reduction of human remains and the disposition of reduced human remains), in the state of California which was the work of Cristina Garcia (D-CA). Garcia described the process of human composting last year as “more environmentally friendly” than practices such as cremation. She further stated, “with climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere.”
How we use the human body matters and there’s a great deal of ethics, morality, and theology to be considered when engaging in the practice of donating organs, stem cell research, in vitro fertilization (IVF), and funerary practices. Reducing the sanctity of the human being to the same level as animals and plants has been the agenda of our twisted culture for a very long time, but it should not be accepted.
The idea of reducing the human body of a family member into a pile of dirt to be used in your flower garden is not the same as donating organs to sick patients after a natural death. The practice of organ donating upholds the sanctity of human life, however using dirt that results from the process of human composting to plant flowers is communicating something different. The practice of human composting points to the sanctity of planet earth but denies the sanctity of human life.
How do you generate interest in something in our culture quickly? Brand the idea or concept as “ecofriendly” and it immediately receives the green badge approval. Creating interest by communicating how a certain practice benefits the planet (green initiatives) has proven to be a popular approach in the spheres of corporate America and politics.
In other cases, you can point to the issue of justice and fuel a campaign to advocate for the oppressed. Human composting as a practice will likely seek to harness both “ecofriendly” and “justice for planet earth” ideologies to gain momentum.
In our hyper-justice saturated culture that’s committed to pursuing justice for climate, animals, and plant life—human composting will ignore the sanctity of the human body in an effort to produce a green alternative to traditional burial which will likely be supported by government initiatives in order to save Planet Earth. But before supporting “eco burials” under the idea that it’s good for the planet, we should first consider the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of the human body as created in the image and likeness of God.